Monday, February 25, 2019

Taking a Seat at the Mayor's Table

The Mayor's Table Pacific Pub and Kitchen
3300 Newport Blvd. 
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Besides the holidays being over, one of my favorite things about the calendar turning to a new year is that it's usually a slower time for restaurants. A lot of people are dieting or watching their money more closely, so they refrain from going out to eat. Not only is it easier to get a table at a reasonable hour, but restaurants are coming up with ways to get people through their doors.

One way to do this is by participating in restaurant weeks, and one of the better ones is Newport Beach Restaurant Week. This year it was held the last two weeks of January. Yes, this seaside paradise does not skimp on the opportunity to experience restaurant week, as it gives diners two weeks to try any of the many restaurants that participate in the city of Newport Beach.

For those of you that are unaware of what restaurant week is, it's a chance for restaurants to put their best foot forward by offering prix-fixe meals at varying price levels for lunch and dinner. There are no coupons or anything else to do, other than peruse the online menus, find a place you want to hit up, and then make reservations. I always try to find places that I have wanted to try for a while. One that attracted my eye really quick was The Mayor's Table, which was offering something on their lunch menu that I could not pass up.

I had made the mistake of letting the first half of Newport Beach Restaurant Week sneak by me without going out to eat, but I wasn't going to let that happen again. The Mayor's Table, which is situated at Lido House, a hotel that seemed to have popped up rather quickly at the former site of the City Hall, was offering a $25 dollar three-course lunch menu that featured their much raved about cheeseburger. Even though all of my friends and Katie were at work on this gloriously sunny Thursday, I decided I'd brave dining solo to try this burger.

This cheeseburger has reached almost mythical heights in my mind because it seems like the OC Register's Restaurant Critic, Brad A Johnson has written about it numerous times. Way more than any other restaurant that I can recall. He's named this burger the best thing he's eaten one week, it made his year-end wrap up of the 10 best burgers he consumed in 2018, and the restaurant itself was named one of his top ten of last year. There have also been numerous other features in other publications, so needless to say I was pretty excited to see what all the hype was about.

After parking a couple of streets over, I wasn't going to pay for valet parking, I arrived at the Mayor's Table right at 11am and was met with a totally empty restaurant. At first, I thought they weren't open, but the hostess sat me and assured me that the lunch rush would fill in the tables surrounding me shortly. The dining room here is one of the most comforting I have experienced in a while. Comfy blue upholstered booths, a large patio set far enough back from the street for the warmer months, and a glorious glance at the action going on in the kitchen are all highlights of the dining space.

Speaking of the kitchen, it is helmed by Executive Chef Partner, Riley Huddleston. He got his start in New York and Chicago before making his OC debut here. He has worked every aspect of the restaurant business. He's an accomplished mixologist, pastry chef, and chef. His vision for the menu at the Mayor's Table is precision and playfulness that highlights Newport's refined, yet stylish coastal lifestyle. At least that's how they describe it on their website. I was very excited to give their Newport Beach Restaurant Week lunch a try, so let's see if this burger is as good as everyone says.

The first course of the menu featured three selections to choose from; a beet salad, a Pacific seafood chowder, and what I eventually went with, this Crispy California Avocado ($12). I first thought this was going to be something that you'd see at the fairgrounds in July, but it was way more subdued than anything you could get at the OC Fair. Three slices of avocado are breaded and fried, then served with Caribbean chili mayo and two pieces of puffed corn. The breading was very light and did not get in the way of the smooth and creamy avocado. The chili sauce was fine, but the consistency was a little too thick and not easily incorporated with the avocado. The popped corn was fine but really seemed out of place and unnecessary.  Good avocado though.

Well, now the heralded All Natural Cheeseburger ($18). This burger was close to a half a pound I'd guess, came with a little aioli, and a blanket of cheddar cheese covering the patty. The sesame bun was nice and high and did a great job absorbing the juiciness of the beef blend that they use here. A very simple burger, my first few bites were a little underwhelming due to the fact that they were a little too conservative with the application of the aioli on this. After my server brought out more, it was a much more enjoyable burger for me. Tasted like a backyard burger, if my parents would ever opt for upgraded beef and better cheese than Kraft Singles. That will probably not happen though. The hand cut fries were good and fresh, but I'd like them to be a little crisper.

Dessert was the last of the three course restaurant week lunch, and they had this Lido House Cookies and Milk ($12) or a cheesecake option. Being the cookie fiend that I am, I naturally went with the cookies. Each one was excellent. I had planned on going by Alta Coffee for one of their cookies on the way back to my car, but these cookies negated that plan. They had a great crunch on the outside and a chewier middle, which is the perfect cookie in my opinion. A very tasty end to my solo lunch at the Mayor's Table.

I had almost unrealistic expectations for the burger at The Mayor's Table, and although it was good, I was not blown away. For me, I love a great burger, but I put a lot of emphasis on how the toppings and condiments interact with the beef and bun. This cheeseburger was good and made with excellent ingredients, but it needed a boost with some extra aioli and definitely, some bacon would have made this better for me. What this visit did do, as is the goal when restaurants participate in restaurant weeks, it has piqued my interest for a return visit. I have my eye on the crab doughnuts, truffle risotto, sea bass, and other items on their compact dinner menu. The burger and the Newport Beach Restaurant Week has gotten me in here, now it's up to the rest of the menu to convince me to return more frequently.

Out of five footballs, (because if you are sitting at a table with the current mayor of Newport Beach, Diane Dixon, she'll probably want to talk about the glory days of USC's football program, since she's an alumnus), five being best to zero being worst, The Mayor's Table Pacific Pub and Kitchen gets 3 footballs.

For more information about The Mayor's Table Pacific Pub and Kitchen, head to their website here:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Hoping Our Dinner Will Be Good for Our Seoul

Urban Seoul 2.0
714 Spectrum Center Drive
Irvine, CA 92618

It's been a while since Ed has made an appearance in OC. Ed is the friend I have known the longest. We entered kindergarten together when we were five years old, went through the exact same schools for the next 12 years, and even though we took different paths after that, we remained very close. He became a successful economist and moved away, while I've stayed at my current job for the last 31 years, and lived in OC all of my life. Yes, even though we ended up being very different people, he's definitely one of the humans on earth that I'm proud to call my friend. He'd probably be shocked to see that I've written this.

Anyways, so when Ed swings by OC, I try to not only pick a place that we haven't been to yet but a restaurant that has that little something extra. To show Ed that his old stomping grounds has evolved quite a bit from when he moved away two decades ago. Back then Orange County was dominated by chain restaurants and the thought of a fusion spot, like Urban Seoul 2.0 opening up was plenty of years away.

The original Urban Seoul opened its doors six years ago last month at the always packed Diamond Jamboree in Irvine. They grew a very large following with their borderless kitchen, which draws inspiration for their food from Asia and Mexico. With an always packed dining room, local restauranteur Bronnie Lee and Chef Kacy Jun decided to open up another location at the equally busy Spectrum shopping center, just down the road.

Urban Seoul 2.0 is situated near the Barnes and Noble and H and M, and right in between Pieology and Wahoo's Fish Tacos. I have never been to the original Urban Seoul, but comparing the two menus, there are some differences, but what struck me the most was the difference in price between the two sister restaurants. The menu items that are offered at both locations are all $3 more at this Spectrum spot, which is kind of odd to me, especially when you consider that the two restaurants are separated by only 8 miles and both are in the high traffic shopping centers. Maybe the serving sizes are bigger here at the Spectrum.

Anyways, we arrived here on a chilly Saturday evening and the restaurant was pretty busy, but we were seated right away. The setting here is what I'd describe as relaxed and comfortable. The dining room is highlighted on the left-hand side by a small eight-seat bar facing two TVs perched just above the bartenders head. The rest of the dining room is reserved for 15 or so sturdy wooden tables, and in the warmer weather, there's also a nice patio out front which I'm sure gets utilized quite a bit.

The menu is pretty good sized at Urban Seoul 2.0. There's a section devoted to starters/share plates which features 11 different options for you to choose from. Sandwiches, a couple of salads, tacos, and specialty items, which are their bowls and skillets round out your options. Prices are less than ten dollars for the starters and the entrees will set you back on average $13 or so, with only the shrimp skillet going over the $15 threshold.

Since Ed was running a late, as usual, Katie and I started with this Gogi Quesadilla ($7.50). This quesadilla included plenty of their delicious beef gogi and cheese. The corn tortilla was grilled nicely with a little bit of crispy cheese on the outside of the tortilla for an added flavor boost. Not too greasy, with a very good crunch to each bite made this quesadilla a winner. It also came with a kimchi sour cream, which was a little on the thin side to be called sour cream. It was fine though, with a nice subtle kimchi tinge to it.

Even though Ed got here late, I appreciated that he took very little time picking out what he wanted. The Signature Tacos ($10.95) come three to an order, with your choice of meat, and no mixing of the proteins, so Ed went with the gogi beef that we had on the quesadilla above.  The tacos come dressed with plenty; kimchi, some purple cabbage, lettuce, hot sauce, red onions, queso fresco, and drizzled with gochujang aioli, which I learned is made up of a red hot pepper paste. Ed normally doesn't say much about his food, but when I asked him if he liked this, he answered in the affirmative. Thanks for the descriptive prose Ed.

I'm always down for a Cheesesteak ($11.50), but Katie picked this before I could get to it. I'd say this was just like a regular cheesesteak, so not a lot of fusion going on with this sandwich. They use gogi on this, which is a very close cousin to the meat they put on a Philly cheesesteak, then add bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms, which also commonly go on everyone's favorite sandwich from the city of brotherly love. Katie felt they nailed the cheesesteak vibe they were going for, maybe a little too well. She wanted this cheesesteak to be more of a fusion item, but with the exception of a slight sweetness to the meat, it just tasted like a regular cheesesteak. A good one though.

I could not decide between a few things, so I opted to get two items and eat half of each while saving the other halves for lunch the next day. First up was the Spicy Pork Torta ($11.50). The description of this blew me away when I read it; bacon refried beans, spicy pork, of course, lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion, queso fresco, jalapenos, and finished off with avocado aioli. This did have quite a bit of heat to it but did not detract from the many flavors of the sandwich. The pork was finely chopped and melded with the beans well. I would have liked a lot more avocado aioli on this, as I'm always partial to a heavy hand when it comes to condiments on sandwiches. The half that I had the next day was better than the one I had at the restaurant. I guess the flavors had more time to meld together. I'm eyeing the chicken katsu sandwich on my next trip here.

I could not come to Urban Seoul 2.0 and not try one of their famous fusion skillets. The Chorizo Kimchi Fried Rice Skillet ($14.95) would be my selection on this evening. Checking out the pictures on Yelp, I'd say this is one of their more popular items, and for good reasons. It uses the holy trinity of pork products, chorizo, bacon, and pork belly, and then they throw in some kimchi, garlic, pickled red onions, fried onion, rice, and green onions, and finish it off with a sunny side up egg. A very comforting dish. I did not really get a lot from the bacon and chorizo in here, but the pork belly was delicious. I also liked the sharpness of the pickled onion, which cut the richness of the pork belly. My one complaint was that the sunny side up egg was overcooked, so the yolk was not runny at all, which I think would have made this even better. A very good bowl for a pretty chilly evening.

Mission accomplished having Ed meet us at Urban Seoul 2.0 on this evening. When Ed and I were growing up in the early '80s, we had no inkling that we'd be eating at a restaurant like this 30 plus years later. Restaurants like Urban Seoul 2.0 show how far the food scene has advanced in OC. No longer are chain spots the places to head when you want to go out to eat. Urban Seoul 2.0 hit the mark on this evening. I would have liked to have seen an even greater cross over between the Mexican and Asian ingredients, but what we had on this evening was all pretty delicious and I look forward to coming back and trying more of their menu soon. Sometimes fusion foods do not really hit the mark, but on this evening they did for us and our good friend Ed.

Out of five kites, (because kite flying is a very popular hobby in Korea), five being best to zero being worst, Urban Seoul 2.0 gets 3 kites.

For more information about Urban Seoul 2,0, check out their website here:

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Rustling up Dinner at the Ranch Enchilada

Ranch Enchilada
4965 Valley View Ave. 
Yorba Linda, CA 92886

The first part of this year has been highlighted by a lot of family time for Katie and me. We went to her sister's house for Superbowl, we went to my niece's high school play, and now we were headed back up to Yorba Linda to watch my other niece cheer at her high school basketball game. We had plenty of time to grab some food with the family, so of course, it was my duty to choose the restaurant. I decided it was time to head to the Ranch Enchilada.

Ranch Enchilada has been around for a long time, just not at this location. Up until 2014, they used to be situated in East Yorba Linda but moved right across from the Veteran's Park Little League fields, right near the intersection of Yorba Linda Boulevard and Valley View. A lot of my really good high school friends worked at the old location back in the day, so it was kind of a hangout for us.

I asked our waiter if it was the same owners from way back then, and he answered in the affirmative. This location is pretty comfortable, with ceiling fans circulating the air from up above, some decorative pieces dotting the walls, and for the warmer months, a patio out back. The menu here is dotted with exactly what you'd expect to see in every Mexican restaurant. There are plenty of starters, tostadas, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, and combo plates to choose from. What I'd term very safe Mexcian food options. If you are looking for more exotic stuff, you need to move along now. Let's see if Ranch Enchilada is as good as I remember when my friends worked here in the early '90s.

Here's a quick shot of the Chips and Salsa that were given out to each table while ordering at the Ranch Enchilada. Pretty basic stuff here. The chips were fine, the salsa was pedestrian with very little in the way of flavor, but it did add some moisture, so I guess that's a plus.

Since the salsa was a little weak on flavor here, a Side of Guacamole ($3.95) definitely needed to be ordered. Unfortunately, this guacamole also suffered from the same calamity as the salsa, it was bland. It also needed to be mashed up a little better than it was when it came out to us. There were big chunks of avocado that were not incorporated into the rest of this pretty good sized portion.

Since we were up this way to watch my niece Kaylie cheer at the basketball game, we appreciated how quickly the food came out for all of us. It seemed like it was way less than ten minutes after ordering that we were digging in. My mom got this Beef Enchilada ($9.75) as her meal on this evening This was the perfect sized meal for my mom, as she ate all of her enchilada and almost all of the rice and beans on her plate. The beef enchilada was covered with Colorado sauce and plenty of melted cheese. I did not try any of this, but my mom seemed to like it plenty.

Katie had a threesome on this evening when she ordered this Pepe's Trio ($9.95). This consisted of three mini crispy tostada shells which were topped with melted cheese, pico de gallo, a scoop of guacamole, and fajita chicken. Red and green sauce was served on the side. She felt this was a pretty solid meal. The tostadas were a little messy to eat, but the chicken was moist and she was pleased with both the red and green sauces. She'd get this again.

When I was growing up, if we went to a Mexican restaurant I would always get a hamburger. Some of the worst burgers I have ever had, but I did not like Mexcian food before I was ten. I guess my niece Lillie inherited this quirk from me, or she just wanted to be different. Whatever the case, she had these Chicken Strips ($6.55) from the kid's side of the menu. The three pieces of chicken looked pretty boring from across the table, but they seemed to do the trick as she ate two out of three, which is a pretty good night for her. Maybe if they had some barbecue sauce to go along with these she might have finished them all. Sorry, that's an inside joke between me and her.

It's always a crap shoot as to what my dad will order, and on this evening he went with the unusual choice of the San Felipe Omlete ($13.95). This breakfast for dinner option featured a two egg omelet filled with crab, shrimp, tomatoes, mushrooms, and green onions.  It was then finished off with the red Colorado sauce and melted cheese. My dad really enjoyed this dish and would not hesitate to get it again. As is his usual, he did not offer me a bite of this. Very selfish.

Our little cheerleader Kaylie did not want something really heavy before she was going to be doing some flips, handstands and whatever else cheerleaders do, so she kept it very light with these Chicken Soft Tacos ($7.00). These soft tacos came simply dressed with lettuce, cheese, and chicken per Kaylie's request. She had no problem finishing these up, and they must have given her some luck as the basketball team won their game with a last-second basket. Way to go Aztecs.

An interesting plate for my sister Kristin on this evening. She had the menu item known as Guanajuato ($11.50). I'm not sure if that's the state in Mexico where the flauta was invented, but that's what the people at Ranch Enchilada call this plate. The flautas are rolled with chicken and fried, then have a green sauce poured on top of them with melted cheese.  My sister was pretty happy with this, and even more happy that they allowed her to have french fries with this instead of beans and rice. Are we even related?

I seem to remember really enjoying the Panchos Favorites ($11.95) when I used to come here decades ago. It's basically a wet chimichanga cut into pieces. This comes with refried beans inside and your choice of either beef or chicken, I went the beef route. It was pretty average. The Spanish sauce covering this lacked any kind of excitement, the beef was not very flavorful, and the highlight of this for me was the plentiful amount of cheese that they used on this. Maybe my food preferences have evolved a bit since the early '90s.

No dessert for us, as we were off to the basketball game, but these Cinamon Crisps came with our check. They were fine, but the sugar and cinnamon did not stay on the tortilla chips very long. Still, a nice touch getting these as a thank you for coming in.

Even though everyone else on this evening seemed to like their food, I was not so sure that the food at the Ranch Enchilada hasn't passed me by. I felt that my meal was very drab, and lacked any real pop of flavor. Everyone else's plates kind of looked boring to me as well. I'd term this very humdrum Mexican food. It's adequate, but nothing that I'd drive out of the way for. I don't even think my parents, who live just over three miles away, will come out of their way to return. The positives? I thought the prices were more than fair and the service we had on this evening was great. Our server, sorry I did not get his name was on top of our every need and kept things moving so we could get Kaylie to her basketball game way before tip-off. Even though the Ranch Enchilada failed to impress it was still a great night of family time.

Out of five headstones, (because the city of Yorba Linda is home to the second oldest private cemetery in OC, the Yorba Cemetery, which offers tours one day each month), five being best to zero being worst, the Ranch Enchilada gets 2.5 headstones.

The Ranch Enchilada does not have a website, but you can find more information about them on their Yelp page here:

Far from Classic Chinese Fare

Classic Chinese Restaurant
23565 Moulton Parkway #C
Laguna Hills, CA 92653

There are few things in life that I look forward to more than the end of the holiday season. Yes, I know, bah humbug and all that. I used to like holidays, but that was before I got a job, paid my own way, and had to do a bunch of running around from one family function to another. Once the new year begins, it's like a big weight is lifted off of me.

One of the things I totally look forward to is getting back into my regular groove of venturing out to restaurants again, and this time we were taking my good friend David out for his birthday. He had just recently visited Classic Chinese in Laguna Hills and claims that they serve some really good food. We decided this is where we'd have his birthday dinner this year, and also celebrate another year of making it through the difficult holiday season.

Classic Chinese is situated on Moulton, in the same shopping plaza as the DMV, Polly's Pie's, Big Lots, and Kosher Bite Deli, which I definitely need to hit up soon to get my pastrami fix. Classic Chinese has been around for three and a half years now. They replaced Long River Restaurant, which was another restaurant that served Chinese food in this spot for a good many years.

We arrived at Classic Chinese at just before 6pm on a recent Thursday. This part of the shopping center was pretty quiet outside, but that was a stark contrast to the bustling energy inside this crowded restaurant. Even with a nearly full restaurant, we were seated right away near the back of the restaurant. The menu here is pretty overwhelming with 183 items listed, but thankfully they are separated by sections. All of your favorite Chinese-American dishes are present here, but there are some more exotic offerings for those of you that like to get a little more adventurous. Think squid, jellyfish head, duck jaw, and six varieties of porridge, which I did not even realize was a thing in Chinese restaurants. We stuck to pretty much the basics, so let's see how David's birthday dinner turned out for us.

I guess I did not get the memo when Katie and David agreed that we were going to get these Crispy Fried Wontons ($6.95) to start out with. These came six to an order and came filled with cream cheese. Both David and Katie assumed this when the order was placed, but it came as a jolt to me when I bit into one when it came out. I'm not a big fan of cream cheese, so I finished that one and let them have the rest. Some meat filled wontons or a better name for this on the menu would have made me happier.

Photo credit goes to the birthday boy for this picture of the Sizzling Filet Mignon ($15.95). He got the better shot because the steam coming from this flew right into my direction. This fajita inspired plate was the best beef dish I have ever had in a Chinese restaurant, hands down. It came out on an iron plate, filled with chopped onion, a couple of mushrooms, red and green bell pepper, and some melt in your mouth filet mignon. As other dishes came to our table, this is the one that I found myself coming back to over and over again. It did not have an overpowering sauce, so the beef and veggies were the stars of the show. A very good start to our meal.

This is when it had started to turn for us at Classic Chinese though. We had wanted the Shredded Pork in Garlic Sauce, but they brought out this BBQ Pork with Pan Fried Noodles ($11.95) instead. This was probably my least favorite entree of the evening. Too many veggies, pork that was very tough and resembled beef jerky, and the crispy noodles added an awkward feel to this plate. We should have asked for our original selection to be brought out instead.

This Chicken Pan Fried Noodle ($12.95) was better, but not by much. It was colorfully presented with plenty of red and green peppers, a better-fried noodle, and plenty of strips of the chicken running through it. The sauce was a little better here but did not wow any of us.

Rounding things out for us on this evening was some Chicken Fried Rice ($11,95). We had wanted to try the house special fried rice, but it has shrimp in it, and Katie does not handle shrimp too well, so we went with this version instead. It was one of the most boring fried rice dishes I have had. Very bland and after my initial scoop, I kept my distance.

I guess it's safe to say that David's birthday dinner was kind of a bust when it came to the food on this evening. With the exception of that awesome sizzling beef dish, the selections that we made failed to impress. Maybe if you stick with the traditional dishes like beef and broccoli, sweet and sour pork, or orange chicken you might have a better experience than we did on this evening. The wait staff was not very friendly. They seemed like they were just there to move things along and get people in an out of the place. No checking up on us, no drink refills until we asked for them, and no smiles from any of them. Even though this restaurant failed to live up to our expectations, I'm still excited that the holiday season is over and that we can get back into a regular routine again.

Out of five eye charts, (because this restaurant is situated in the same shopping center as the DMV, and eye charts are an important part of getting your drivers license), five being best to zero being worst, Classic Chinese Restaurant gets 2 eye charts.

Classic Chinese Restaurant does not have a website, but you can find plenty of information about them on their Yelp page here:

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Rollin' to Restaurant Mary for Some Chilaquiles

Restaurant Mary
1819 South Main St. 
Santa Ana, CA 92707

My boss must have made a mistake. For some unexplained reason, he gave me New Years Day off. This is a guy that is not really too fond of me for some reason. I know that seems crazy since I come across as so lovable writing this blog, but I definitely get that sense from him. Since he has arrived on the scene a year and a half ago, my schedule has changed from early mornings to a mid shift, and my beloved Sundays off have been replaced with a boring Wednesday off.

Okay, enough venting from me, you didn't come here for that, you came here for a restaurant review, and that's what I'm going to do for you. It was the morning of New Years Day, and after a night where I fell asleep by 9:30, I had awoken to a pang of hunger for one of my favorite breakfast dishes, Chilaquiles. I quickly checked my restaurant wishlist and found near the top was a place in Santa Ana, Restaurant Mary.

Restaurant Mary landed on my list due to the fact that the OC Weekly had written about them numerous times. The former Editor in Chief, Gustavo Arellano has called this one of the most underappreciated restaurants in OC, has praised their soups, and more importantly to me, included them on his best chilaquiles list. High praise from someone that definitely knows great Mexcian food.

We arrived at Restaurant Mary with our good friends and Santa Ana residents Angel and Rebekah for a late morning breakfast right around 11am. They have passed by here plenty of times but had never visited until now. If you blinked when you'd pass Restaurant Mary, you'd totally miss it. It's a very unassuming place, situated between Edinger and Warner on Main Street, with just a single sign above the door. It really blends into the neighborhood.

Once inside the door though, the vibrant orange walls, heavy wooden tables, the decorative hand painted chairs, and pictures and knickknacks adorning the walls bring a sense of home that you could probably expect from any one of the neighborhood houses that are within walking distance of Restaurant Mary.

The one-page breakfast menu includes all of your Mexican breakfast favorites, plus omelets and what I was here for chilaquiles. The regular menu has plenty to offer in the way of starters, burritos, tacos, sopes, tortas, quesadillas, seafood, and fajitas. One thing on this menu that I had never seen before was the option of having morning dove or cornish hen as one of the meat options for your enchiladas. Maybe next time I'd try that, but for me on this first day of the new year, I already knew what I'd be having. Let's see how everyone's first meal of the year turned out.

As we were waiting for Angel and his much better half Rebekah to arrive, this Chips and Salsa was sat in front of us as we perused the menu. The chips were pretty standard, and I liked both salsas, but neither was very spicy. They basically kept me busy until our food arrived.

This picture of the Queso Fundido Con Chorizo ($7.99) does not do it justice. It looks a little boring as all the chorizo was layered on the bottom of the thick and stingy cheese. I should have taken the picture after I had mixed it up a bit. This ended up being a very solid version of one of my favorite appetizers to try in a Mexican restaurant. The menu says that the chorizo here is homemade, and it did taste great. The cheese was nice and stringy and the flour tortillas were very sturdy and a great vessel for this fundido. A must try.

True to form, Katie always has to order a Side of Guacamole ($4.99) when it's available. She liked this a lot more than I did. The fresh avocados were overrun by too much cilantro and tomato. I also like the avocado to be a little creamier, as this version was more on the chunky side. Not a bad price for such a large side though.

The last of our appetizers before our entrees came out was this selection by Angel. He wanted to give their Frijoles Puercos ($8.99) a spin. The menu was very secretive about this, as they listed it as a bean dip with special house ingredients. Hmmm, I'm guessing that since puercos was in the name, it might have had either bacon or chorizo in this. Whatever was in this dip was very rich and satisfying. I found myself dipping tortilla chips in this over and over throughout our time at Restaurant Mary.

Katie almost always gets a Breakfast Burrito ($8.99) when we go out for the first meal of the day. At Restaurant Mary they offer it with either ham or bacon, and she went with the latter. The burrito also included scrambled egg, rice, potatoes, and cheese. She admitted she made an error when ordering this by not adding some refried beans or avocado to make this a little less dry. She did add plenty of salsa to help as a solution. She loved the way everything was cooked in here, the light rice, the bacon was crisp, and the eggs were nicely seasoned, She'd still probably get the huevos rancheros next time she comes here though.

Here's the plate that got us to drive twenty miles, the Chilaquiles. You can get either red or green sauce, as you will see below. I went with the Red Chilaquiles with Carnitas ($11.99). This was an excellent plate of chilaquiles. The chips were nice and crisp, with plenty of sour cream and cotija cheese. The red sauce was pretty mild, which kind of held this back from being my number one spot for chilaquiles. The carnitas were nice and tender with some nicely crisped ends. Just the way I like them. The rice was some of the lightest I have had, but the beans are where it's at. There's nothing like fresh refried beans. So good.

When Rebekah's plate was placed in front of her, all of us let out an audible gasp. This Chilaquiles Con Asada ($9.99) was one big plate of food. More like a platter really. Rebekah made the wise decision to get the green chilaquiles and they were better than the red ones I had. There was a depth of flavor to the green that the other just didn't have. I also enjoyed the slight tinge of spice that was at the tail end of each bite. I did not get a chance to try her Asada, but it kind of looked overcooked to me. No complaints from Rebekah though, so maybe it was alright.

Angel finished out our late morning meal at Restaurant Mary with his selection, Chorizo and Eggs ($7.99). He was pretty pleased with this simple meal. The eggs were done well and he really enjoyed the chorizo. He asked for double beans instead of rice because he's high maintenance like that. So demanding, I don't know how Rebekah puts up with him.

Restaurant Mary was an excellent choice for our first meal of 2019. This little unassuming gem felt like you were eating in someone's house. The food was crafted well with a pinch of love thrown in. It's up there with some of the best Mexican I've had in Santa Ana, but I think that crown still belongs to El Pico De Gallo, but Restaurant Mary was close. Service was very warm and friendly, and our food came out quickly. A very nice start to our culinary year and I look forward to crossing off more restaurants from my list in 2019.

Out of five gavels, (because the city of Santa Ana is home to the largest courthouse in OC, and their judges probably go through plenty of gavels), five being best to zero being worst, Restaurant Mary gets 3.5 gavels.

Restaurant Mary does not have a website, but you can find out more information about them on their Yelp page, which you can access here: